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I love Israel as a country and culture, but I am very skeptical of what's going on there with the Palestinians. I have a few Jewish/Israeli friends, and political discussions easily turn heated – e.g. on Facebook.

Realistically the Israelis will do a digital background check on anybody entering their country – natural language processing of everything you wrote on Facebook included – they do that because they can, and they can because they are close allies with the U.S.

Is it possible that critical comments on Facebook / forums or maybe even some mild forms of activism beyond Facebook (like financially supporting projects like http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/) could be reason to be denied entry to Israel?

I think this would be pretty harsh, but knowing some Israelis, it seems they have little patience with foreigners expressing political skepticism. And also judging from the tense atmosphere answering those questions at the border, I would not be too surprised if they don't hesitate to refuse people they don't like.


http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/11/nsa-americans-personal-data-israel-documents

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Welcome to travel.SE. Have you already been denied or are you afraid that you will be denied? Also what's your citizenship? –  Karlson Jun 16 at 20:20
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am German and haven't been denied yet –  Raffael Jun 16 at 20:29
    
@Raffael Their little patience with foreigners and political skepticism I guess would be due to the past. Israel is a small country whereas Judaism is one of the oldest religions on this planet. But I think modern times are changing the actions committed against them in the past. Also, they are still undergoing a strong change in their country, the outcome for which is not yet decided, so skepticism is not invalid. –  Aditya Somani Jun 17 at 4:23
    
Don't confuse personal feeling of Israelis with official actions of the state. Israel has freedom of speech and the government has a lot of patience with foreigners expressing any point of view. However, if you cross from expressing to actually doing things that may be considered hostile to the state (such as participating in violent clashes with the police, materially aiding groups connected to terrorist organizations, etc.) matters might be different. If you just talk on Facebook, the government of Israel has much more important things than to concern itself with you. –  StasM Jul 13 at 23:43

4 Answers 4

German citizens (born in 1928 or later) do not require a visa to enter Israel, so there won't be any background check in advance.

As to the background check at the border, I'm not sure where you're getting your information from about this: "Realistically the Israelis will do a digital background check ... natural language processing of everything you wrote on Facebook included". I have been to Israel many times and know numerous people who have been as well, and have never heard of any such thing. It seems like an urban legend, I'd be very curious to see the source.

If you think about it, there is no reliable way to match you to a Facebook profile - your name might be spelled differently on Facebook from the passport spelling, there may be many people on Facebook who share your name, etc... Matching a person to one or more online profiles is a big research project, and certainly not something that a border agent will waste time doing for everyone who comes in, especially from a European country. I am pretty sure they will just check your name against known crime databases and such and simply stamp you in, I've never heard of anyone being questioned about their political beliefs upon entry to Israel.

Also, Israel does have freedom of speech, with even some Israelis openly expressing pro-Palestinial views. It's not a totalitarian country by any means. I seriously doubt that you can legally be denied entry due to your political beliefs. Also, I've met Europeans (Germans included) in Israeli hostels who were openly pro-Palestinian, who have visited the Palestinian territories and then made it through Israeli checkpoints without any issues.

A few additional points:

  • Of course, if you're so actively involved in anti-Israeli activities that your name has specifically made it to watchlists, you're in bigger trouble of course. But simply posting your opinions online and donating to a cause, especially to a legitimate registered organization in Israel like the one you linked to, is not nearly enough to get any serious attention. If you're buying or selling munitions or something, you may have a bigger problem :)
  • You may be confusing airline security screenings with entry into the country. During an airline screening for a typical Israeli flight, they can and will ask you about anything at all, from your family to your political views, but that's to determine if you're a threat to the flight, not to decide whether or not to let you into the country. If you cooperate, the worst that can happen there is usually a more thorough search of your luggage and more security measures for you (e.g. can't move around airport secure zone without an escort).
  • Even if for some reason you do face tough questions when entering the country, remember that even the toughest questions and the "tense atmosphere" are there not to question your beliefs, but to see how you respond under pressure. There are unfortunately many individuals who would do much more to hurt Israel than just post on forums; If a border guards are asking tough questions, it's only because they want to determine as quickly as possible whether you pose any real problem, and the best way to do this may be to apply some pressure. But if you're not a real threat, as long as you cooperate they will see this, and nobody will waste any more time on you; Again - there are enough real threats to deal with.
  • Note that all of the above is based on my personal experience with Israel (I actually hold an Israeli citizenship as well) and the experience of my circle of friends, relatives and acquaintances, and some common-sense / knowledge about the country that I've built up. I don't have any access to the border guards' manuals, so there's always the chance I'm wrong :)
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"Matching a person to one or more online profiles". I don't know for Israel but USA has harsh policy in this case of situations: my South Korean friend is denied entrance to USA since he has the same name than a North Korean official. –  Taladris Jul 19 at 16:58

It is a recurring subject in the Norwegian press that Norwegians are regularly refused entry to Israel without obvious reasons.

This problem is also addressed in the travel advices on Israel from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They write that if you can be assumed to be a moslem or of Arab origin or if you have participated in political or missionary activism, you may be subject to a thorough interrogation and background checks. Failing to fulfill the requirements for the interrogation and/or background check may lead to a refused entry. It is known, that passengers are refused entry without further explanation. If you are denied entry, you must be expected to be held in custody under poor conditions until it is possible to return to your origin country.

It is of course impossible to even guess if you will or will not have problems entering Israel. Considering that the previous text is written in a diplomatic language by an official ministry, you probably however have a good reason to assume that Israeli immigration may reject you if it can be easily determined that you have participated in internet discussions and expressed an "incorrect" opinion.

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I can't read Norwegian, so I'm going by Google Translate here. It does say that people who have "been involved in activist or missionary activity are often subjected to thorough interrogation at entry and exit", but as for being denied entry, it only says "attempts to oppose safety or refuse to answer the questioning may result in you being refused entry". This is consistent with what I wrote - yes, you may face tough questions, but you're only likely to be actually denied if you don't cooperate. This is very different from being denied entry for different political beliefs. –  Eugene O Jun 17 at 15:03
    
@EugeneO: I was just trying to summarize the content of the page and not give an exact translation. The relevant statement is: "Det forekommer at reisende blir avvist av sikkerhetsgrunner uten at det blir gitt noe nærmere forklaring." or translated "It occurs that travellers are being rejected due to security concerns without further explanation." Looking into the reported cases, it is obvious that "expressed a pro Palestinian opinion" is enough to be "rejected ... without further explanation". –  Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jun 17 at 16:02
    
Could the down-voters perhaps explain? I understand that this is a politically delicate subject, but I am just trying to point out that the immigration situation in Israel seem to be so arbitrary that foreign governments feel required to warn their citizens about expected problems. –  Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jun 24 at 8:46

Many of my friends here in Israel support organisations like Breaking the Silence. This is not unusual. Of course, being citizens we cannot be refused entry and we generally whiz through passport check without any hinderance.

I suspect being active in the BDS circles might earn you thorough questioning, but who knows? Much like any border police, the Israeli authorities don't share their profiling rules, but if you just cooperate and you're not up for anything too subversive, you'll be out of the airport in no time.

For a personal edge, some of my friends and Couchsurfing guests shared stories with me. Here's the most extreme one:

A young Swiss citizen, whose father was born in the West Bank. Traveling with his girlfriend, Though his family has long moved to Switzerland, where he was born, the passport control stopped him for questioning. In the meanwhile, his girlfriend was permitted entry instantly, as would be expected for a holder of a Swiss passport, and had to wait for him. Finally, the officer pulled up his father's ID and photo on the computer screen (yeah, modern governments scare me too), and upon confirming his identity, permitted his entrance.

The whole experience was obviously unpleasant and distressing to my guests, but I think overall they've enjoyed their trip.

If you're interested in more horror stories, you can find some here (note, this is an Israeli publication -- we do openly discuss such issues around here). Take it with a grain of salt; journalism is naturally sensationalistic. ("Man bitten by a dog" is not news, "Dog bitten by a man" is.) I'm sure you've heard about people being questioned by the US border police as well, yet it doesn't deter most people from travelling to the US.

It's best to be smart about it. There's no need to discuss your West Bank travel plans with the officer, especially if your plans include something as mundane as visiting churches in Bethlehem and snapping photos of the wall. Do not joke about bombs, do not get into political arguments, apply the same common sense as with any other border police officer around the world.

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The "horror stories" link you've provided is about airport security screening - it has nothing to do with whether to let you into the country, it's all about screening you to ensure safety of the airplane when you fly out of the country. If there are any "horror stories" about political questioning, looking into people's social media accounts, specifically at the immigration checkpoint (letting people in), would love to read more about these. –  Eugene O Jul 14 at 0:37
    
You're right. The first story was airline security (on the way out of Israel) so I removed it. I suppose I'll remove the TSA references as well. –  Ilya Jul 14 at 1:06

I have heard of entry refusals of American citizens who had announced in advance online that they intended to enter the Gaza Strip (at a time this was physically feasible). But something like half the American Jewish community is disappointed with Israeli policy. It would be a very big blacklist.

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